If the 2012 election is decided by how Americans currently feel about their country, President Obama will lose by a landslide this November. According CBS News, 61 percent of Americans believe America has seriously gotten off on the wrong track. ABC News pegs that same metric at 64 percent.
It is not a mystery why. When Obama was sworn into office, unemployment was 7.8 percent. Now it’s 8.2 percent. More than 7 million Americans have given up looking for work since Obama became president. And over all this time, our national debt has risen almost 50 percent, from $10.6 trillion to $15.6 trillion.
Obama knows he has no positive record to run on. He knows the only way he can survive this November is if voters blame someone else for the current state of the nation. Here is how he told Rolling Stone magazine he plans to frame the election:
“Their vision is that if there’s a sliver of folks doing well at the top who are unencumbered by any regulatory restraints whatsoever, that the nation will grow and prosperity will trickle down. The challenge that they’re going to have is: We tried it. From 2000 to 2008, that was the agenda. It wasn’t like we have to engage in some theoretical debate — we’ve got evidence of how it worked out. It did not work out well, and I think the American people understand that.”
Obama’s 2000-to-2008 window is no accident. He wants to avoid all responsibility for his own record by blaming Bush for our current economic woes. There are many problems with this strategy (its cynicism and mendacity, for starters.) But it is also just plain false.
Love him or hate him, Bush did not preside over some great era of deregulation. Quite the opposite, in fact. During Bush’s term, money spent by regulatory agencies increased 44 percent, from $27 billion in 2001 to $44.9 billion in 2007. The number of people employed by federal regulatory agencies rose by 38 percent from 172,000 in the 2001 fiscal year 2001 to 238,000 in fiscal 2007. And the Code of Federal Regulations grew by more than 4,500 pages.
According to the Small Business Administration, in 2000, the regulatory burden inflicted on businesses was $4,722 per employee. By 2008, that number had almost doubled to $8,086. Whatever caused the financial crisis, it wasn’t Bush-era deregulation.
Mitt Romney can’t let Obama escape accountability for his record by blaming Bush. That means he must offer his own narrative of what caused the 2008 financial crisis — a narrative that puts government intervention at the heart of the problem.
Romney needs to explain how, by leveraging their status as quasigovernmental entities, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were able to monopolize the mortgage securities market by the early 1990s. He needs to point out that Countrywide Financial was a tiny regional mortgage broker when it first formed a partnership with Fannie Mae in 1992. He needs to use his business background to explain that Countrywide would never have become the nation’s largest mortgage lender without this government help. He needs to tell Americans that not only did Fannie Mae know that Countrywide was shredding industry lending standards, but that Fannie actually gave Countrywide awards specifically for that practice.
Romney needs to note that it is no accident that former Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., the author of Obama’s signature financial reform bill, was caught receiving preferential loans from Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo. Romney needs to explain that crony capitalism fueled the last crisis, and it has only gotten worse under Obama.
As President Reagan said in his Inaugural Address, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Unlike the straw-man vision Obama fed Rolling Stone, we did actually try Reagan’s policies. We’ve got evidence of how they worked out, too. Americans can judge for themselves whose economic record they prefer.